The role of doulas in respectful care for communities of color and Medicaid recipients

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Mallick, LM, Thoma, ME, Shenassa, ED. The role of doulas in respectful care for communities of color and Medicaid recipients. Birth. 2022; 49: 823-832.


Background Despite the tenets of rights-based, person-centered maternity care, racialized groups, low-income people, and people who receive Medicaid insurance in the United States experience mistreatment, discrimination, and disrespectful care more often than people with higher income or who identify as white. This study aimed to explore the relationship between the presence of a doula (a person who provides continuous support during childbirth) and respectful care during birth, especially for groups made vulnerable by systemic inequality.

Methods We used data from 1977 women interviewed in the Listening to Mothers in California survey (2018). Respondents who reported high levels of decision making, support, and communication during childbirth were classified as having “high” respectful care. To examine associations between respectful care and self-reported doula support, we conducted multivariable logistic regressions. Interactions by race/ethnicity and private or Medi-Cal (Medicaid) insurance status were assessed.

Results Overall, we found higher odds of respectful care among women supported by a doula than those without such support (odds ratios [OR]: 1.4, 95% CI: 1.0–1.8). By race/ethnicity, the association was largest for non-Hispanic Black women (2.7 [1.1–6.7]) and Asian/Pacific Islander women (2.3 [0.9–5.6]). Doula support predicts higher odds of respectful care among women with Medi-Cal (1.8 [1.3–2.5]), but not private insurance.

Conclusions Doula support was associated with high respectful care, particularly for low-income and certain racial/ethnic groups in California. Policies supporting the expansion of doulas for low-income and marginalized groups are consistent with the right to respectful care and may address disparities in maternal experiences.